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This morning, hundreds of Amazon Kindle owners awoke to discover that books by a certain famous author had mysteriously disappeared from their e-book readers. These were books that they had bought and paid -- for thought they owned.
But no, apparently the publisher changed its mind about offering an electronic edition, and apparently Amazon, whose business lives and dies by publisher happiness, caved. It electronically deleted all books by this author from people's Kindles and credited their accounts for the price.
This is ugly for all kinds of reasons. Amazon says that this sort of thing is "rare," but that it can happen at all is unsettling; we've been taught to believe that e-books are, you know, just like books, only better. Already, we've learned that they're not really like books, in that once we're finished reading them, we can't resell or even donate them. But now we learn that all sales may not even be final.
As one of my readers noted, it's like Barnes & Noble sneaking into our homes in the middle of the night, taking some books that we've been reading off our nightstands, and leaving us a check on the coffee table.
You want to know the best part? The juicy, plump, dripping irony?
The author who was the victim of this Big Brotherish plot was none other than George Orwell. And the books were "1984" and "Animal Farm."
As reported in the LA Times' technology blog, the launch of Antigua-based media download site Zookz has raised the ire of the US trade commission as well as the RIAA and MPAA. However, according to the company, Zookz is permitted by the World Trade Organization under a loophole copyright sanction. You read that correctly. The US trade commission and the RIAA / MPAA is challenging Zookz the pirate with the WTO in its corner. Imagine the cage match.
Zookz is offering unlimited movie or music downloads for $10 per month (or $18 for both). The company's low prices can be attributed to the fact that it is not paying licensing fees to copyright owners. The justification as to why Zookz can ignore US claims to intellectual copyrights is a long and complicated one.
It seems the WTO ruled with Antigua after a long series of battles over the fact that US restrictions on online gambling were found to violate free trade agreements. Despite the decision, no new forms of offshore online betting were allowed in the US. In retaliation, Antigua received permission from the WTO to suspend US copyright obligations up to a value of $21 million dollars annually.
The blog of the Foundation for Economic Education is Anything Peaceful. Obviously anything peaceful includes using your physical property peacefully even if that involves using ideas generated by others.
Dan Cohen had a frustrating time with his Kindle and iPhone relating to DRM. He tells about it here and here.
The "bottom line":
You are able to redownload your books an unlimited number of times to any specific device.
Any one time the books can be on a finite number of devices. In most cases that means you can have the same book on six different devices.
Unfortunately the publishers decide how many licenses, that is devices, a book can be on at any one time. While most of the time that will be five or six different devices there will be times when it's only one device.
At the present time there is no way to know how many devices can be licensed prior to buying the book. [Emphasis added.]
At a recent Foundation for Economic Education seminar, a debate over intellectual "property" broke out spontaneously among Ivan Pongracic (second from right), Paul Cwik (second from left), and me (left).
I highly recommend Kevin Carson's "'Intellectual Property': A Libertarian Critique," published by the Center for a Stateless Society. It is first-rate. So-called intellectual property is not just about rock bands "protecting" recordings. It's about big dinosaur corporations attempting to subordinate people through the control of ideas. This big issue will only get bigger in the near future, and much is at stake. Whether one realizes it or not, defense of patents and copyrights puts one on the side of the opponents of liberty.
"Facebook, one of the hottest social-networking sites on the Internet, landed in a Boston courthouse Wednesday facing charges that its founder stole the idea for the company from a competing site." --San Francisco Chronicle, today
Merchants are free to attempt to create artificial scarcity, and that is what happens when a company keeps it codes private or photographers put watermarks on their images online. Proprietary and "open-source" products can live and prosper side-by-side, as we learn from any drug store that offers both branded and generic goods inches apart on the shelves.
But what you are not permitted to do in a free market is use violence in the attempt to create an artificial scarcity, which is all that IP legislation really does. Benjamin Tucker said in the 19th century that if you want your invention to yourself, the only way is to keep it off the market. That remains true today.
So consider a world without trademark, copyright, or patents. It would still be a world with innovation perhaps far more of it. And yes, there would still be profits due to those who are entrepreneurial. Perhaps there would be a bit less profit for litigators and IP lawyers but is this a bad thing?
One study found that users of pirated software sufficiently influenced by word-of-mouth communication eighty percent of the software's prospects to buy the legal product and another described several scenarios in which piracy can help increase the sales of legal products. The pirated product functions as a free sample that the innovator does not have to fund.
The rest of Jerry Kirkpatrick's article, "The Market Function of Piracy," is here at the Ludwig von Mises Institute.